Chapter XXII. Thick Fog

It was half-past eleven when Allerdyke reached Gresham Street: by half-past one, so curiously and rapidly did events crowd upon each other, he was in a state of complete mental confusion. He sat down to lunch that day feeling as a man feels who has lost his way in an unknown country in the midst of a blinding mist; as a weaver might feel who is at work on an intricate pattern and suddenly finds all his threads inextricably mixed up and tangled. Instead of things getting better and clearer, that morning's work made them more hopelessly muddled.

Chettle was hanging about the door of the warehouse when Allerdyke drove up. His usually sly look was accentuated that morning, and as soon as Allerdyke stepped from his cab he drew him aside with a meaning gesture.

"A word or two before we go in, Mr. Allerdyke," he said as they walked a few steps along the street. "Look here, sir," he went on in a whisper. "I've been reflecting on things since I saw you last night. Of course, I'm supposed to be in Hull, you know. But I shall have to report myself at the Yard this morning--can't avoid that. And I shall have to tell them why I came up. Now, it's here, Mr. Allerdyke--how much or how little shall I tell 'em? What I mean sir, is this--do you want to keep any of this recently acquired knowledge to yourself? Of course, if you do--well, I needn't tell any more there--at headquarters--than you wish me to tell. I can easy make excuse for coming up. And, of course, in that case--"

"Well!" demanded Allerdyke impatiently. "What then?"

Chettle gave him another look of suggestive meaning, and taking off his square felt hat, wiped his forehead with a big coloured handkerchief.

"Well, of course, Mr. Allerdyke," he said insinuatingly. "Of course, sir, I'm a poor man, and I've a rising family that I want to do my best for. I could do with a substantial amount of that reward, you know, Mr. Allerdyke. We've all a right to do the best we can for ourselves, sir. And if you're wanting to, follow this affair out on your own, sir, independent of the police--eh?"

Allerdyke's sense of duty arose in strong protest against this very palpable suggestion. He shook his head.

"No--no!" he said. "That won't do, Chettle. You must do your duty to your superiors. You'll find that you'll be all right. If the police solve this affair, that reward'll go to the police, and you'll get your proper share. No--no underhand work. You make your report in your ordinary way. No more of that!"

"Aye, but do you understand, Mr. Allerdyke?" said the detective anxiously. "Do you comprehend what it'll mean. You know very well that there's a lot of red tape in our work--they go a great deal by rule and precedent, as you might say. Now, if I go to the Yard--as I shall have to, as soon as you've done with me--and tell the chief that I've found this photo of your cousin in Lydenberg's watch, and that you're certain that your cousin gave that particular photo to Mrs. Marlow, alias Miss Slade, do you know what'll happen?"

"What?" asked Allerdyke.

"They'll arrest her within half an hour," answered Chettle. "Dead certain!"

"Well?" said Allerdyke. "And--what then!"

"Why, it'll probably upset the whole bag of tricks!" exclaimed Chettle. "The thing'll be spoiled before we've properly worked it out. See?"

Allerdyke did see. He had sufficient knowledge of police matters to know that Chettle was right, and that a too hasty step would probably ruin everything. He turned towards the warehouse.

"Just so," he said. "I take your meaning. Now then, come in, and we'll put it before my manager, Mr. Appleyard. I've great faith in his judgment--let's see what he's got to say."

The two Gaffneys were waiting just within the packingroom of the warehouse. Allerdyke bade them wait a little longer, and took the detective straight into Appleyard's office. There, behind the closed door, he told Appleyard of everything that had happened since their last meeting, and of what Chettle had just said. The problem was, in view of all that, of the mysterious proceedings of Mrs. Marlow the night before, and of what Allerdyke had just heard at New Scotland Yard--what was best to be done, severally and collectively, by all of them?

Ambler Appleyard grasped the situation at once and solved the problem in a few direct words. There was no need whatever, he said, for Chettle to do more than his plain duty, no need for him to exceed it. He was bound, being what he was, to make his report about his discovery of the photograph and the writing on it. That he must do. But he was not bound to tell anything that Allerdyke had told him: he was not bound to give information which Allerdyke had collected. Let Chettle go and tell the plain facts about his own knowledge of the photo and leave Allerdyke, for the moment, clean out of the question. Allerdyke himself could go with his news in due course. And, wound up Appleyard, who had a keen knowledge of human nature and saw deep into Chettle's mind, Mr. Allerdyke would doubtless see that Chettle lost nothing by holding his tongue about anything that wasn't exactly ripe for discussion. At present, he repeated, let Chettle do his duty--not exceed it.

"That's it," agreed Allerdyke. "You've hit it, Ambler. You go and tell what you know of your own knowledge," he went on, turning to Chettle. "Leave me clean out for the time being. I'll come in at the right moment. Say naught about me or of what I've told you. And if you're sent back to Hull, just contrive to see me before you go. And, as Mr. Appleyard says, I'll see you're all right, anyhow."

When Chettle had gone, Allerdyke closed the door on him and turned to his manager with a knowing look.

"That chap's right, you know, Ambler," he said. "A false move, a too hasty step'll ruin everything. If that woman's startled--if she gets a suspicion--egad, it's all mixed up about as badly as can be! Now, about these Gaffneys?"

"Wait a while," said Appleyard. "I don't know that we want their services just yet. I've found out a thing or two that may be useful. About this man Rayner now, who's in evident close touch with Miss Slade (by the by, you saw her at the Waldorf at half-past eleven last night, and I saw her come into the Pompadour at half-past twelve, with Rayner), and about whom we accordingly want to know something--I've found out, through ordinary business channels, that he does carry on a business at Clytemnestra House, in Arundel Street, under the name of Gavin Ramsay. And--if we want to know more of him--I've an idea. You go and see him, Mr. Allerdyke--on business."

"I? Business?" exclaimed Allerdyke. "What sort of business?"

"He's an inventor's agent," replied Appleyard. "It's a profession I never heard of before, but he seems to act as a go-between. Folks that have got an invention go to him--he helps 'em about it--helps 'em to perfect it, patent it, get it on the market. You've a good excuse--there's that patent railway chair of your man Gankrodgers, been lying there in that corner for the past year, and you promised Gankrodgers you'd help him about it. Put it in a cab and go to this Rayner, or Ramsay--there's your excuse, and you can say you heard of him in the City, from Wilmingtons--it was they who told me what he was. It's a good notion, Mr. Allerdyke."

"What object?" asked Allerdyke.

"Simply to get a look at him," replied Appleyard. "Look here--you know very well that there's a strong suspicion against Miss Slade. Miss Slade, to my knowledge, is in close touch, with Rayner. Therefore, let's know what we can about Rayner. You're the man to go and see him at his own place. Do it--and we'll consider the question of having him watched by the two Gaffneys when you've seen and talked to him."

Allerdyke considered this somewhat strange proposal in silence for a while. At last he rose with a look of decision.

"Well, I've certainly a good excuse," he said. "Here, have that thing packed up and put in a cab--I'll go."

Half an hour later he found himself shown into a smartly furnished office where Mr. Gavin Ramsay sat at a handsome desk surrounded by shelves and cabinets whereon and wherein were set out the products of the brains of many inventors--models of machines, mechanical toys, labour-saving notions, things plainly useful, things obviously extravagant. The occupant of this museum glanced at Allerdyke and the box which he carried with an amused smile, and Allerdyke said to himself that Appleyard was right in his description--if the man was crippled and deformed he certainly possessed a beautiful face.

"Mr. Marshall Allerdyke," said the hope of inventors, glancing at the card which his visitor had sent in.

"The same, sir," replied Allerdyke, setting down his box. "Mr. Ramsay, I presume? I heard of you, Mr. Ramsay, through Wilmingtons, in the City; heard you can be of great use to inventors. I have here," he continued, opening the box, "a railway chair, invented by one of my workmen, a clever fellow. You see, it 'ud do away with the present system of putting wooden blocks in the chairs now used--this would fasten the sleepers and rails together automatically. It is patented--provisionally protected, anyhow--but my man's never got a railway company to try it, so far. Think you can do anything, Mr. Ramsay?"

The hunchback got up from his desk, took the invention out of its box, and carefully inspected it, asking Allerdyke a few shrewd questions about the thing's possibilities which showed the caller that he knew what he was talking about. Then he sat down again and went into business details in a way which impressed Allerdyke--clearly this man, whoever he was, and whatever mystery might attach to him, was a smart individual. Also he had a frank, direct way of talking which gave his visitor a very good first opinion of him.

"Very well, Mr. Allerdyke," he said, in conclusion. "Leave the thing with me, and I will see what I can do. As I say, the proper course will be to get it tried on one of the smaller railway lines--if it answers there, we can, perhaps, induce one of the bigger companies to take it up. I'll do my best."

Allerdyke thanked him and rose. He had certainly done something for his man Gankrodgers, and he had seen Ramsay, or Rayner, at close quarters, but--Ramsay was speaking again. He had picked up Allerdyke's card, and glanced from it to its presenter, half shyly.

"You're the cousin of the Mr. Allerdyke whose name's been in the papers so much in connection with this murder and robbery affair, I suppose?" he said. "I've seen your own name, of course, in the various accounts."

"I am," replied Allerdyke. He had moved towards the door, but he turned and looked at his questioner. "You followed it, then?" he asked.

"Yes," assented Ramsay. "Closely. A curiously intricate case."

"Any solution of it present itself to your mind?" asked Allerdyke in his brusque, downright fashion. "Got any theory?"

Ramsay smiled and shook his finely shaped head. He, too, rose, walking towards the door.

"It's a little early for that, isn't it?" he said. "I've studied these affairs--criminology, you know--for many years. In my opinion, it's a mistake to be too hasty in trying to arrive at solutions. But," he added, with a shrug of his misshapen shoulders, "it's always the way of the police, and of most folk who try to get at the truth. Things that are deep down need some deep digging for!"

"There's the question of the present whereabouts of nearly three hundred thousand pounds' worth of jewels," remarked Allerdyke grimly. "Remember that!"

"Quite so," agreed Ramsay. "But--your own particular and personal desire, as I gather from the newspapers, is to find the murderer of your cousin?"

"Ah!" said Allerdyke. "And it is! Got any ideas on that point?"

Ramsay smiled as he opened the door.

"I think," he said, with a quiet significance. "I think that you'll be having all this mystery explained and cleared up all of a sudden, Mr. Allerdyke, in a way that'll surprise you. These things are like warfare--there's a sudden turn of events, a sudden big event just when you're not expecting it. Well, good-bye--thank you for giving me a chance with your man's invention."

Allerdyke found himself walking up Arundel Street before he had quite realized that this curious interview was over. At the top he paused, staring vacantly at the folk who passed and repassed along the Strand.

"I'd lay a pound to a penny that chap's all right," he muttered to himself. "He's not a wrong 'un--unless he's damned deceitful! All the same, he knows something! What? My conscience!--was there ever such a confounded muddle in this world as this is!"

But the muddle was a deeper one within the next few minutes. He crossed over to his hotel, and as he was entering he met Mrs. Marlow coming out, fresh, dainty, charming, as usual. She stopped at sight of him and held up the little hand-bag which hung from her wrist.

"Oh, Mr. Allerdyke!" she said, opening the bag and taking an envelope from it. "I've something for you. See--here's the photograph your cousin gave me. You were wrong, you see--there's no spot in it--it's a particularly clear print. Look!"

In Allerdyke's big palm she laid the very photograph which, according to all his reckoning, was that which Chettle had found within the cover of Lydenberg's watch.